Ousted Thai leader still has rural fans
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 24, 2006
AT SAMAT, Thailand - After a meeting with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra early this year, Yao Chongthep got a government-built house and raised her earnings tenfold by starting a mushroom business with a government loan.
It was handouts like those that won Thaksin a warm spot in the hearts of Thailand's poor. So, while polls say most Thais back the coup that ousted the leader, many in the heartland are still sorry to see him go.
Tuesday's coup capped months of protests in the capital against Thaksin for alleged abuse of power and corrupt deals with cronies.
Through it all, Thaksin's popularity remained solid here in the impoverished northeast - home to a third of the country's 63-million people, who he wooed with business grants, cheap health care and debt suspension for farmers.
"He took care of us poor people first and foremost," Yao, 42, said in the shade of her new prefabricated home. She didn't want to talk about the coup. "Before there was no one who looked after us."
Yao's husband, Somchai Waew-wong, however, said he believes the bloodless coup might have been the quickest and most peaceful way to end the political crisis.
"The situation was becoming more chaotic and tense," he said.
Yao met the publicity-savvy Thaksin when he led a highly publicized one-week antipoverty blitz in Roi Et province in January.
Before the visit, Yao earned the equivalent of $13 a month selling vegetables she grew herself and was homeless, toting her children around to stay with friends and family. After their meeting, Thaksin granted her a $4,000 home, for which she pays $13 a month.
Even that would have been impossible for her, but Yao also received a small business loan and learned new skills, including how to grow and sell mushrooms. She has increased her monthly income to nearly $130.
The district chief, Somkiart Rattanamethathorn, keeps a photo commemorating Thaksin's visit next to his desk. But he, too, feels the coup has its pluses.
"They have good intentions and are trying to solve the problem of peace and order with respect to the protests. The military came in to try to control the situation."
[Last modified September 24, 2006, 01:29:36]
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